Chapter 19 - The Gritty Truth
I am a big fan of what I call "gritty southern fiction". Usually the genre includes stories that take place in the past and there is family hardship involved. The characters are always richly drawn, there may be some gothic involved in the introduction of a mysterious house or odd character or two, and there are almost always family secrets involved.
While some early 20th century writers like Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner certainly have gritty fiction nailed down, thankfully there are some more modern and fresher authors who work in this genre as well. Most recently the world was introduced to this type of story by Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing as this definitely fits into the genre. Here are some of my other personal favorites.
Under the Magnolias by T.I. Lowe - I got a chance to read this as an Advance Reader Copy and it contains all the best elements of grit. In the story a young woman raises her siblings on a South Carolina tobacco farm as her father struggles with his bouts of depression. There is despair, darkness, secrets and redemption rolled up into one excellent story. Tonya's most recent books have been more New Adult focused although her first traditionally published book, Lulu's Cafe', falls into the gritty southern fiction genre which is her preference. I look forward to seeing more of this from her. As a bonus she will be signing her new book at the store on May 8 from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.
Bells for Eli by Susan Beckham Zurenda - I have had the pleasure with working with Susan recently on an author's panel sponsored by The Palmetto Literacy Council (a worthy organization, you can find out more here - www.palmettoliteracy.org). Her book Bells for Eli is a coming of age story and is also one of the gritty Southern fiction books I like so much. Eli and Delia are cousins who form a bond after Eli suffers a childhood accident. Another story of family hardship, secrets, destruction and love from an author I'm looking forward to seeing more from. We will be hosting Susan at the store sometime in September.
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain - A young woman in 1960's North Carolina takes on a job as a social worker in a very rural area. Before too long she discovers that the remedy for the poor (white or black) in this area is involuntary sterilization. The North Carolina Eugenics Program was in place from 1929 to 1974 and eugenics programs across the states are a large scar on our national history. This is another gritty Southern read with redemption at its end. Diane Chamberlain is a terrific writer of this type of fiction and one you should check out.
The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart - A fractious family relationship, a tragedy, a move to a new place and a young girl trying to make sense of it all are the landmarks of this book. Dixie is a preteen when the book starts in the late 1960's. Her momma has manic bouts of anger, her father drinks, her grandparents believe that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child, and her older brother is just about perfect. Add to this a mysterious uncle who comes to "help out" in the midst of a family trauma and you have all the elements of a terrific story. Donna is another Southern writer who specializes in a gritty Southern fiction type of story.
A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons - Novelist Kaye Gibbons has overcome a difficult Southern childhood to write a number of novels which have been adapted into television movies. Two of her novels Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman were selected for Oprah's Book Club. A Virtuous Woman is one of my favorites. The book is about a married couple who tell the story from each of their perspectives. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and I recommend you read something by this author.
Do you have any favorite gritty Southern fiction?